I recently returned from a trip abroad. It was a fabulous, exciting trip, possibly the best one our family has ever taken. We lived with family while we were away, so there were no generic hotel suites or bathrooms shared with strangers. It was lovely. And yet, when I walked through the doorway of my house upon our return, there was this amazing, almost indescribable feeling that washed over me. The stress of travel washed away, and I immediately was more relaxed than I had been since our journey began two weeks prior. What is it about home that can make us feel so darn good?
For me, home represents an anchor, a tether to the place that I can always return to, feel safe, and–to some degree–be in control. If I think about the stories I love most, home is often a character itself. In J.D. Robb’s In Death series, Eve and Roake live in a mansion, a veritable fortress where they can be vulnerable with each other, where only their true family–in this case, mostly treasured friends–are welcome. For Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, the custom-built apartment that Henry built for her represents perhaps one of the few constants in her life, and, more importantly, is symbol of the very real friendship she has with Henry. It is, I think, one of the first true gifts she’s received since becoming an orphan as a child. Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse lives in her grandmother’s home, where so many important memories and events are based.
But, home doesn’t have to be a structure I don’t think. Instead, it’s that intangible something that makes us feel good, really good, about where we are, even when events are, perhaps, not making us feel very good. Home can be family, a special place, a beloved group of friends. So, how does this inform a story?
When a writer threatens, alters, or removes that special something we call home, they allow us to relate and connect to the characters who may, in every other way, be so very different from us; the concept of home is that something most of us share, so by using that commonality between reader and character, a writer draws us into the story in a visceral way. The reader feels the fear, sadness, or loss as home is threatened; the reader shares the happiness and joy if home is restored. But, perhaps most of all, it can make the story and the characters’ experiences very, very real.
And it’s delicious.